How CAD transformed the engineering design process

Engineers need a number of tools in the modern age to be efficient during the design process. From computer aided design tools to 3D printers to virtual reality, today’s technology only advances what engineering can do.

Let’s take a look at the history of the engineering design process as well as some of the tools that allow modern engineers to do their jobs efficiently.

The beginnings of technical drawing and design

To many younger engineers, drawing blueprints by hand might seem like a myth, but not so long ago, teams of workers would spend weeks sketching out blueprints for a simple part.

To examine the history of technical drawing and design equivocally means to look at the history of man, the history of the construction of things. Writing and design have been around since the dawn of time. The earliest recorded history of technical writing dates back to 2000 BC, of ​​which we have a fossilized aerial view shot of a Babylonian castle. Since then, and with the advent of paper, technical writing has been quite analogous. For most of the history of drawing, it was an art form perfected by skilled designers and essential to the infrastructure of a culture. For quite a long time, engineering meant stepping out of paper and drawing blueprints and drawings by hand.

The modern era of technical drawing was ushered in in 1963 when a man named Ivan Sutherland invented a little program called Sketchbook. This was the first graphical user interface CAD program – if you can call it that – that allowed users to create xy plots. Engineers back then didn’t use this program on a daily basis, or even at all, but it kicked off what is now a thriving computer-aided design industry entirely focused on engineering design.

Significant intellectual and financial investment was made in the 1960s in CAD programs by engineers from Boeing, Ford, Citroën, MIT and GM. Probably obvious to the companies involved, CAD emerged as a way to simplify automotive and aerospace designs. Due to the significant lack of processing power by today’s standards, early CAD designs required great financial and technical capabilities.

The birth of AutoCAD and other CAD technologies

However, thanks to Moore’s Law and the rapid growth of electronics, CAD capabilities grew steadily over the next half century. In the midst of this growing advancement, the engineering world saw the founding of Autodesk and the release of “AutoCAD Release 1”. Admittedly, the marketing and naming department was not as good as it is today then. At the time of its release, AutoCAD was ridiculed by the so leading CAD software companies, but it continued to expand into the engineering community. At that time, it was the available computer hardware that was holding back CAD programs. Despite massive efforts in the technical field in the early 1980s, it was not until the late 1980s and early 1990s that CAD software became good enough to be practical in engineering design.

After strong competition from competing CAD design company Parametric, Autodesk took the leading market share in the CAD industry in 1992, then valued at $ 285 million. The CAD software of the day was not what we think of today, as the main programs ran in 2D. It took the market demand for 3D CAD software to kick in in the mid-90s. Its growth finally exploded into today’s CAD market with the programs we see today.

There is no shortage of competent competition in the computer design industry, which is beneficial for the engineer. The history of design and writing is that of paper, quickly limited by digital expansion. Engineers of today have become considerably more skilled than engineers of the past. Personally, I’m happy to be an engineer in the modern age, and I’m sure you are too.

Starting from the roots of the engineering design process, we can see how we got to where we are today. CAD tools have made it easy for us as engineers to create realistic looking parts on our computer screens. One of the greatest advancements CAD has brought to engineers is the ability to render parts or assemblies to their near-final appearance. It helps bring the engineering design process to fruition and even pushes it into the future a bit.

Understand the importance of CAD-based renderings

Most of the product images you see in marketing brochures or on the web are probably not images at all, they are digital renderings of complex designs.

In a world where rapid prototyping and manufacturing processes are constantly improving, the ability of an engineer to see their design, in reality, becomes easier and easier. For most of the history of engineers and craftsmen, viewing a design in its fullest sense has not happened for others until the product is put together – only the engineer. with the idea could view a design in its full spectrum natively.

This problem of the narrow view of actualizing a product in the design process has always been overcome by sketching. Eventually our drawing skills improved and went digital, making even the least artistic engineer a inspired Creator. When CAD first hit the market, it was rudimentary at best. Even with its drawbacks, it quickly passed the point at which all hand sketching techniques could follow. As visual processing power increased in the 1990s and early 2000s, virtual product renderings became more common.

Renderings at the start

The problem with renderings for most of their lives has been that they are not easy to do. CAD and rendering tools were often very separate programs. Their abilities rarely overlapped, and the people who worked on each rarely met. An engineer who wanted to develop a render had to send his final design to someone maybe a little more artistic and to someone who was an expert in the respective rendering software.

By stepping back for a moment, we have to achieve something. Engineers have always designed products. Whether it’s the new theater for Shakespeare’s first play in recent years or the new Samsung phone, engineers are designing things that other people can use.

This means that engineering has always inherently required some form of marketing. Engineers can design a product that works all day, but if it isn’t visually stimulating consumers won’t want to use it.

Now let’s move on to the present.

Modern rendering tools

Render tools are now fully integrated into CAD programs. Engineers can render a finished product before the smallest invisible details are worked out. Modern CAD capabilities have made rendering, design, and engineering virtually synonymous. What previously took companies weeks and huge sums of money can now be done entirely in-house by personnel engineers. While some engineers may not appreciate the possibility of additional work, it has only given us more creative power and influence.

Almost every company, from the largest to the minor, used to outsource their renderings to specialist companies, as are the number of companies that still deal with their graphic designs today. In addition to saving businesses money and empowering the design engineer, renderings have allowed product development schedules to align with the fast-paced consumer culture of “I want it.” now “.

Because visually accurate and believable renderings of products can be produced early in the design process, marketing teams have the freedom to schedule releases when they want, not just when engineers are ready. For all intents and purposes, once the design is visually finalized, a company can release compelling renderings of the product to the public, even when no more refined engineering is complete.

As engineers in the modern world, we need to understand the need to be able to visually demonstrate our products as soon as they are available. The integration of CAD and rendering tools facilitated engineering and design at the same time. For most modern CAD products, renderings are automatically updated when a design is edited in CAD software, further simplifying the engineer’s life.

Renderings will only become more important to the modern engineer. Understanding the visual tools available to you as an engineer will only make you more valuable.


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Abdul J. Gaspar

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